VML, formerly known as Wunderman Thompson, is an ad and PR agency under the WPP holding company. Wunderman Thompson was known for its advertising work for Shell. 

On October 17, 2023, WPP announced that Wunderman Thompson merged with VMLY&R to create one creative group named VML.1Megan Graham. “WPP Merging VMLY&R With Wunderman Thompson,” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2023. Archived October 17, 2023. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. In 2018, WPP’s digital network Wunderman merged with J. Walter Thompson, which at the time called itself “the world’s best-known marketing communications brand.”2Patrick Coffee. “WPP Will Merge J. Walter Thompson With Wunderman to Form Wunderman Thompson,” Adweek, November 26, 2018. Archived November 24, 2022. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. In 1987, WPP bought J. Walter Thompson for $566 million, making it the largest business under the WPP umbrella.3Philip H. Dougherty. “Company News; Britons’ New Bid Wins JWT,” The New York Times, June 27, 1987. Archived November 9, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FlCS7 J. Walter Thompson and Wunderman both worked for Shell before the merger, and continued to work for the oil corporation after becoming Wunderman Thompson.4Patrick Coffee. “WPP Will Merge J. Walter Thompson With Wunderman to Form Wunderman Thompson,” Adweek, November 26, 2018. Archived November 24, 2022. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. 

In 2020, Wunderman Thompson absorbed three other WPP-owned agencies, Mirum, Possible, and iStrategy Labs.5Patrick Coffee. “Ad holding company WPP is continuing its consolidation spree with the Wunderman Thompson network absorbing 3 more agencies,” Business Insider, November 7, 2019. Archived November 8, 2019. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/862Ll

Shell advertisement created by Wunderman Thompson. Photo taken in Bristol, U.K. in October 2022. Courtesy of Adfree Cities.6New greenwash from Shell: take action!Adfree Cities, August 5, 2022. Archived June 7, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x9GDi

Stance on Climate Change

“We support urgent action to tackle the climate crisis through the Paris Climate Agreement and have been working to cut our carbon footprint since 2006,” Wunderman Thompson’s parent company, WPP, stated on its website in 2023.7 “Climate Change Commitments,” WPP. Archived June 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/xEk6p

On June 9, 2023, environmental groups picketed Wunderman Thompson’s offices after the UK’s Advertising Standard Authority banned the agency’s ads for Shell, claiming they misled consumers about the scope of its fossil fuel business.8 Tom Fogden. “Wunderman Thompson’s UK Offices Picketed Following Banned Shell Ads,” B&T, June 9, 2023. Archived June 9, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/lfWHA

In July 2022, Wunderman Thompson’s Chief Strategy Officer Mel Weise discussed why Wunderman Thompson will continue to work for fossil fuel companies: “People look at our purpose effort and they’re like, ‘we’ve got you now because you work for Shell and Rio Tinto and brands that are pulling stuff out or pumping crap in.’ No, if you want to sell doors, you stand in the draft.”9Brendan Coyne. “Wunderman Thompson: Operating ‘in the grey’ with the Rio Tintos and the Shells is where biggest opportunity lies; purpose-profit consulting the new model as in-housing accelerates, downturn looms,” Mi3, July 13, 2022. Archived August 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/D2Kax


In 2022, Wunderman Thompson’s parent company, WPP, reported revenue of £11.8 billion ($14.4 billion US) with pass-through costs removed.10Annual Report 2022,” WPP, March 23, 2023. Archived April 10, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/nGlMH

Key People


June 7, 2023

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned Shell’s “Powering Progress” ad campaign from running in the UK.11 “ASA Ruling on Shell UK Ltd t/a Shell,” Advertising Standards Authority, June 7, 2023. Archived August 1, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/VR8eq The ASA ruled that the ads, which promoted Shell’s renewable energy ventures, were misleading.12Hannah Bowler. “Shell’s latest greenwashing ad ban marks a tipping point for big oil’s eco campaigns,” The Drum, June 6, 2023. Archived June 29, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/pUBbB Wunderman Thompson created the “Powering Progress” ads.13ASA Ruling on Shell UK Ltd t/a Shell,” Advertising Standards Authority, June 7, 2023. Archived August 1, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/VR8eq Adfree Cities filed a complaint against television, billboard, and social media advertisements, which were part of the campaign displayed in the UK during the summer of 2022.14Adfree Cities. “Complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority Re: Shell Ads,” Adfree Cities, July 8, 2022. Archived August 1, 2023. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. Advertising trade publication The Drum described the ruling as a “tipping point” for fossil fuel advertisers, since it opened the door for fossil fuel corporations to be labeled greenwashers for advertising their renewable energy projects.15Hannah Bowler. “Shell’s latest greenwashing ad ban marks a tipping point for big oil’s eco campaigns,” The Drum, June 6, 2023. Archived June 29, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/pUBbB

The TV and Youtube ads for “Powering Progress” opened with a man who said, “In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100 percent renewable electricity from Shell.” The ad then switched to a man installing an EV charging point who said, “Shell aims to fit 50,000 chargers nationwide by 2025.” Then a man in a Shell uniform at a gas station said, “And with more electric car charge points coming to Shell forecourts near you, the UK is ready for cleaner energy.”

Adfree Cities complained that the campaign misled consumers by failing to note that a large majority of Shell’s business dealt with fossil fuel extraction, not clean energy. Shell responded to the complaint by stating:

“Because the ads’ purpose was to promote low-carbon energy, [Shell’s media department] believed that any mention of high-carbon Shell products would have been counterproductive. Information about those Shell products would have only served to highlight their existence and availability, and thereby dilute the impact of the ads’ positive environmental message.”16“ASA Ruling on Shell UK Ltd t/a Shell,” Advertising Standards Authority, June 7, 2023. Archived August 1, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/VR8eq

The Advertising Standards Authority acknowledged that consumers “broadly” knew that a large part of Shell’s business was related to fossil fuels. But the organization also found that consumers knew these corporations were under pressure to transition away from fossil fuels, and could be misled by the extent to which Shell would be relying on renewable energy in the near future. 

April 27, 202317Rio Tinto | Our Purpose,” Rio Tinto YouTube account, April 27, 2023. Archived August 2, 2023. Archived video available at DeSmog.

Rio Tinto posted its YouTube video “Our Purpose,” which was created by Wunderman Thompson and Rhythm Films.18Pass it On: Purpose Video,” Rhythm Films. Archived August 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/G2WuH The video presented Rio Tinto, the second-largest mining company in the world, as crucial to a clean energy future.19Cecilia Jamasmie. “Rio Tinto to miss 2025 emissions cuts targets,” Canadian Mining Journal, July 26, 2023. Archived July 26, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/TBmVE The video, which was shared in a social media advertising campaign, began with one woman holding a rock who said, “As we all work toward a low carbon future, we’re going to need these.”  “They contain all the materials we need for the global energy transition,” she added. 

On May 5, Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm noted that the company will continue its coal business until at least 2029, and that Rio Tinto’s “huge carbon footprint” would be difficult to curb on the timeline the firm set in 2020.20Jesinta Burton. “Rio Tinto boss says he regrets ambitious emissions targets,” WAtoday, May 5, 2023. Archived May 5, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ae8Z5 

February 22, 202321Company Assessment: Rio Tinto,” Climate Action 100+, February 22, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/DuQHQ 

Rio Tinto published its 2022 Climate Change Report, designed by Wunderman Thompson and produced by Black Sun.22Rio Tinto Climate Change Report 2022,” Rio Tinto, 2023. Archived June 29, 2023. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. 

August 15, 2022

Wunderman Thompson Brasil launched the second phase of its campaign for Shell Brazil, “Energy That Comes from People” (“Energia que Vem de Gente” in Portuguese.)23Thales Brandão. “Shell Brazil launches new phase of the “Energy that Comes from People” campaign,” Cidademarketing, August 18, 2022. Archived August 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/7jcrE The campaign showcased Shell’s financial support of Brazilian cultural and education institutions, as well as its role in preserving biodiversity. Some ads also promoted Shell’s EcoMarathon. In an interview with Brazilian publication CidadeMarketing, Shell and Wunderman Thompson executives who worked on the campaign said it was important for the ads to have a diverse cast of actors to center the message around people instead of Shell’s products.24Thales Brandão. “Shell Brazil launches new phase of the “Energy that Comes from People” campaign,” Cidademarketing, August 18, 2022. Archived August 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/7jcrE 

The campaign featured digital, television, and outdoor ads. The public relations campaign included coverage on more than 30 media outlets in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasília, and Espírito Santo. 

One ad on Facebook, “Shell Brasil 110 Años” featured a video that claimed, “We produce and distribute biofuel while investing in the natural gas market and generating carbon credits using socially responsible solutions. We are now planting the seeds of Brazil’s renewable energy.” 

The ad ran on Facebook as part of the “Energy That Comes from People” campaign in May 2023. 

June 30, 2022

The Dutch Advertising Code Committee ordered Shell to pull ads from its updated “Now You Can” campaign, originally created by Wunderman Thompson-owned Mirum, because they were misleading.25Laura Hurst and Diederik Baazil. “Shell Is Called Out Again for Misleading Climate Ads in Holland,” Bloomberg Green, June 30, 2022. Archived October 28, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JJSh5 In August 2021, the Dutch advertising watchdog originally ordered Shell to stop running ads in the Netherlands that claimed consumers could “drive carbon neutral” after filling up their vehicles with specific Shell fuels, or pay the equivalent of one cent extra per liter of gas to compensate for pollution caused by those products. By September 2021, Shell updated the ads to say “Make the change. Compensate for CO2 emissions.”26[Tweet]. “And… how does #Shell react to the final ruling of the RCC on misleading advertising? By adjusting a word in the headline! Not by abolishing the deceptive practice. ‘Driving CO2 neutral is now: compensate CO2 emissions’ (but who will spot the deception that is still there?)” Fossil Free Advertising Netherlands Twitter Account, @FVReclame, September 10, 2021. Archived August 3, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/5M9oo 

Fossil Free Media, Greenpeace, and a Dutch citizen filed a complaint against the updated advertising campaign. The Advertising Code Committee found that the word “compensate” misled consumers into thinking that the total amount of atmospheric CO2 does not increase with the use of Shell’s fuels.27File 2022/00100 – CVBAdvertising Code Committee, October 20, 2022. Archived November 10, 2022. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog.

After Shell lost an appeal to the June 30 decision, it said it would adjust the wording in its ads to make it more clear what CO2 compensation meant.28Diederik Baazil and Cagan Koc. “Shell Loses Dutch Appeal Over Misleading Carbon Emission Ads,” Bloomberg Green, October 21, 2022. Archived October 23, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.li/7Atlq

December 2021

Wunderman Thompson Brasil created the campaign “The Energy That Comes from People” for Shell Brazil.29Energia que vem da gente – Wunderman Thompson / Shell,” Clube de Criação, December 3, 2021. Archived August 1, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/n99wK One video advertisement showed Barbara Souza, the first female manager of the Parque de Conchas offshore oil rig, diving into the ocean and wading into the waves. 

August 26, 2021

The Dutch Advertising Code Committee banned Shell’s “Now You Can/Drive Carbon Neutral” campaign in the Netherlands.30File 2021/00190,” Advertising Code Committee, August 26, 2021. Archived June 8, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/zxdCE  The Dutch advertising watchdog upheld a complaint filed by law students from a university in Amsterdam. The complaint alleged that consumers were misled by the advertisements to believe that their vehicle’s emissions will have no negative environmental impact after fueling up at a Shell station.31Laura Hurst and Diederik Baazil.“Dutch Ad Watchdog Tells Shell to Pull ‘Carbon Neutral’ Campaign,” Bloomberg Green, August 27, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/Mp7oz The non-legally binding decision found that Shell could not guarantee that the compensation scheme completely eliminated the carbon emissions of driving. 

March 2021

Wunderman Thompson India created a campaign for Shell India called “Great Things Happen When We Move.”32 “Shell India celebrates dreamers with ‘Great Things Happen When We Move’,” Brand Equity, March 4, 2021. Archived March 4, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/mX80k The agency released the campaign ahead of International Women’s Day, and sought to tie Shell’s corporate brand to women’s empowerment by showcasing Indian women who are pioneers in their careers. Each video ad showed the women in gas-powered trucks and motorcycles, which they refilled at Shell gas stations.33 “Shell India celebrates dreamers with ‘Great Things Happen When We Move’,” Brand Equity, March 4, 2021. Archived March 4, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/mX80k According to Wunderman Thompson, the campaign had a PR value of $42.6 million.34Our Work: Great Things Happen When We Move,” Wunderman Thompson. Archived April 23, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.li/z8v0p

September 2020

Shell hired Wunderman Thompson to create a campaign marketing Shell Helix, the Shell brand of car oil, and oil change services directly to Egyptian consumers.35Wunderman Thompson Commerce Launches Shell Helix’s First Global Direct to Consumer (D2C) Website,” Wunderman Thompson, September 7, 2020. Archived August 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ws9YX Wunderman Thompson built a Shopify website to sell Shell Helix and the site won four awards at the 2020 Communicator Awards.36 “Success for Shell Helix and Wunderman Thompson Commerce at the 26th Annual Communicator Awards (2020), Wunderman Thompson, September 9, 2020. Archived October 10, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ohLaC

July 8, 2020

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority decided to pull a Shell radio ad off the air. The ad was part of the “Now You Can/Drive Carbon Neutral” campaign, which the British watchdog group claimed was misleading.37 “ASA Ruling on Shell UK Ltd,” Advertising Standards Authority, July 8, 2020. Archived July 22, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/J0HjT  The ad included the voiceover, “Although you might not be able to see it, your small actions can have a real impact with Shell. Drive carbon-neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today. Make the change. Drive carbon-neutral.” The Advertising Standards Authority said consumers were likely to be misled into thinking that Shell Go+ was a type of fuel, not a rewards program. Both Wunderman Thompson and Accenture Interactive worked on the Shell Go+ account.38Shell forced to axe misleading ‘carbon neutral’ Go+ ad,” Decision Marketing, July 8, 2020.  Archived August 13, 2020. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/L7MOn  

March 6, 2020

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Wunderman Thompson created Shell’s “She Will/She’ll” campaign.39Mónica Marie Zorrilla. “Yes, Shell Is Changing Its Name to She’ll for Women’s Day (But Only at 1 Station),” Adweek, March 6, 2020. Archived .pdf available at DeSmog. The campaign updated the company’s logo to include an apostrophe at a woman-owned Shell gas station in California,40Henry Cheadle. “I Went to See the She’ll Gas Station for Myself,” Vice, March 9, 2020. Archived May 3, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/nUIEu and ran a social media campaign to promote its efforts at supporting gender equality at Shell. Adweek reported that the campaign was roundly mocked on social media for appearing insincere. 

October 2019

Shell launched its “Now You Can” campaign in the United Kingdom, advertising that members of its Shell Go+ loyalty program could “drive carbon neutral.” Wunderman Thompson/Mirum41About,” Binoy Zuzarte. Archived April 28, 2019. Archive URL: https://archive.li/VEzf6 created the campaign, according to Binoy Zuzarte, then a senior copywriter at Wunderman Thompson London.42Binoy Zuzarte. “Thinking of You: The Inclusive Power of Opt-Outs,” Little Black Book, March 18, 2021. Archived March 19, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.li/rNppD Mirum is a Wunderman Thompson-owned agency.43Binoy Zuzarte. “Now You Can Integrated Campaign,” Binoy Zuzarte. Archived August 3rd, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/vWhZj The advertising campaign included radio, outdoor, and digital ads.44John Glenday. “Shell faces ASA investigation over ‘drive carbon neutral’ claims,” The Drum, March 3, 2020. Archived June 24, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Rohgb

A Shell advertisement in the Netherlands, courtesy of Reclame Fossielvril (Fossil Free Advertising).

April 2019

Shell launched its “Now You Can” campaign in the Netherlands, which advertised that consumers could drive carbon neutral by filling up at its gas stations. Mirum created the campaign.45Harriet Stockwell. “Shell ‘Now You Can’ Integrated Global Campaign,” Brit and Harri, 2020. Archived August 2, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/KDY5k As part of the campaign, ads were attached to gas pumps at gas stations that said, “Make the change. Drive CO2 neutral.” (In Dutch: “Mak Het Verschil. Rij CO2-Neutraal.”)

The campaign began in the Netherlands, with plans to expand to the UK later in 2019 before expanding to other countries.46Shadia Nasralla. “Shell pushes green credentials with “carbon neutral” driving scheme,” Reuters, April 8, 2019. Archived August 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/4zuxC The ads promoted a carbon-credit scheme in which drivers fueling their cars with Shell V-Power gas or diesel would automatically participate in Shell’s carbon-offsets program, while those who filled up their vehicles with regular gas could opt-in for the equivalent of one cent per liter of gas. Shell said that each carbon offset credit represented the removal or avoidance of one ton of CO2 emissions. 

An investigation by Unearthed found that the three carbon offset programs Shell used to purchase carbon credits in the “Drive Carbon Neutral” campaign were riddled with issues, which made it unclear whether drivers were actually offsetting their emissions.47Joe Sandler Clark, Emma Howard and Luke Barratt. “Doubts over Shell’s ‘drive carbon neutral’ claim,” Unearthed, October 25, 2021. Archived July 31, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/nPM0q Shell and the UK government were double counting the Glengarry tree-planting project in Scotland as carbon credits for Shell and the UK.48[Press Release]. “Drivers Set To Go Carbon Neutral With Shell,” Shell UK, October 10, 2019. Archived June 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.li/1Gl5Q The Cordillera Azul rainforest in Peru, which featured prominently in the “Now You Can/Drive Carbon Neutral” campaign, was already a protected national park for several years before it started claiming credits through the ad campaign to avoid deforestation. In 2012, the carbon offset program based in Cordillera Azul noted that no illegal logging had been observed by park guards since 2006.49Joe Sandler Clark and Luke Barratt. “Top airlines’ promises to offset flights rely on ‘phantom credits’,” Unearthed, May 4, 2021. Archived July 21, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.li/sQcVV 

October 2019

Following the merger of J Walter Thompson and Wunderman, Wunderman Thompson South Asia announced it signed a contract with Shell.50Wunderman Thompson South Asia logs in 70 business wins in 6 months,” exchange 4 media, October 1, 2019. Archived August 11, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/C4hio


Wunderman Thompson created “The Great Travel Hack” campaign for Shell featuring actress Kaley Cuoco. Edelman, VaynerMedia, UEG, and Mediacom helped create the campaign.51Shell: The Great Travel Hack by J. Walter Thompson,” The Drum, March 2019. Archived January 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/kxYrY The campaign targeted young audiences in videos that followed two teams of social media influencers as they tried to travel across the United States using the lowest CO2 emissions.52Ritch Ames. “Watch the Great Travel Hack Season 1: LA to NYC,” Shell Make the Future, Archived November 27, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.li/OcJae Wunderman Thompson London wrote about the campaign in a submission to the 2020 Eurobest Awards: “Courting a young ‘energy engaged’ audience is pivotal to the [Shell] brand” but “this is the audience arguably most sceptical of the big energy companies, believing them to be ‘part of the problem’ when it comes to climate change.”53 “Shell: The Great Travel Hack,” Eurobest Awards, 2020. Archived October 10, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Dy4MC Wunderman Thompson also wrote in the awards submission, “On YouTube, perceptions of the brand ‘delivering cleaner energy solutions’ more than trebled as a result of TGTH [The Great Travel Hack], from 11% to 37%.”


J Walter Thompson London won a Gold Clio award for its Shell campaign, “Gravity Light,” which was part of the multi-year #Make the Future campaign.54J. Walter Thompson London. “Shell: Gravity Light,” The Clio Awards, 2017. Archived June 30, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/lSBLg Edelman London assisted with public relations.


J Walter Thompson Toronto created the television advertisement “Grains of Sand” for Shell Canada.55Wunderman Thompson Toronto. “Shell Canada – ‘Grains of Sand’,” Adforum, June 2006. Archived June 21, 2020. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/1ik8E “We’ve been working with the local community for many years now trying to learn how to return the land to nature, let nature take its course,” said Rob Seeley, Shell Canada Ltd.’s general manager, in the ad. “Shell is committed to developing one of the largest oil deposits on earth and equally committed to reclaiming the land for tomorrow,” said a voiceover. Janet Rowley, a Shell Canada spokeswoman, told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that the ad was a “long term proposition” to increase the success of Shell’s relations with communities and governments.56Keith McArthur. “Rob’s Weekly Ad Review,” The Globe and Mail, May 6, 2006. Archived August 4, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/F72PX

December 26, 1999

J Walter Thompson won Shell’s retail, credit card, and lubricants account, after already working on the global Shell account.57Nancy Sarnoff. “Oil change: Shell taps J. Walter Thompson for U.S. ad account,” Houston Business Journal, December 26, 1999. Archived November 30, 2007. Archive URL: https://archive.li/soZRB J Walter Thompson replaced WPP-owned Ogilvy & Mather on the account, which was estimated to be worth $60 million.58Our Offices: New York,” Wunderman Thompson. Archived February 5, 2023. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/rc3n8  

Owner: WPP

Contact & Address

Wunderman Thompson has offices in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Its headquarters in New York are located at:

175 Greenwich Street
Floor 16
New York, NY 10007
United States

+1 212-210-7000

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